Friday, 21 July 2017

All change down in the fields by the brook

The Safari had a family day out with brother P and niece M who were over from Italy on a short break back home. A few years ago they took us on a very pleasant walk around the Karst limestone area just east of their home in Trieste so it was time to return the favour...but where to go?
We decided to take them to the new nature reserve that was fields of carrots, spuds, cabbages and cereals when P was a lad before he set off on his international wanderings. 
He is also one of the members of the Year Bird Challenge but hasn't added too many species yet despite visits to the Confluence of the Niles at Khartoum and Etosha National Park in Namibia. He gets to exotic locations but probably doesn't have much time to devote to sight-seeing or bird photography. With him not being in Britain so far this year we thought we give him a chance to add to his tally...and of course we might too and had a couple of targets in mind.
Before we met up we stopped off at a big wetland reserve on the way. Only a small part of it is dog friendly so we were restricted having Monty with us. The areas of the reserve we could access were pretty quiet with just large numbers of moulting Mallards, Coots flitting Sand Martins  and a few Lapwings on show, and none of them really close enough for a decent pic. There was no sign of the 'famous' car park Kestrel that shows down to a few inches at times.
One of the best conservation developments in recent times has been the use of grazing animals to help create the right conditions for other species by breaking up areas of continuous sward in to a more mixed habitat. At this reserve they use a small herd of Longhorn cattle.
They don't quite have full access all over the reserve but are able to get down to the lakeside to drink, bathe, chill out if the so desire. It's standing ankle deep in Crassula, the invasive New Zealand Pygmyweed which unfortunately blankets all the lakes' margins. It's a pity the cattle don't eat it as there's plenty for them to go at.
From the raised viewpoint we saw a new structure out in the water. A gravel raft for Common Terns to nest on. Within a few minutes a tern arrived a sat up on a corner post. We watched while it had a good preen but couldn't see if there was another bird or any chicks inside.
 A scan of the far bank revealed a small pale wader scurrying around at the water's edge. Could this be one of our target species? We couldn't really tell  as it was too far away through our new Super-Swazza bins so we fired off a few hopeful shots.
Can you see it?
Zooming in we saw it was 'just' a Ringed Plover, not the hoped for Little Ringed Plover.
Time to go and meet up with the family...
The day was warm, humid but with enough breeze to thankfully keep the vicious bloodsucking  Cleggs grounded. There were other insects on the wing in the form of butterflies which P monitors back home and was telling us that so far this year he's recorded 49 species on his 1km transect - compare that to the total British list of just 50 species! He was surprised to see the most common butterfly here today was the Gatekeeper, a species we never would have guessed would colonise the area when we were nippers out on our bikes round the former fields.
At the first screen he added several species to his Year Bird Challenge tally, 'simple' stuff like Lesser Black Backed Gull, Lapwing and Canada Goose. We picked up a wader behind the Lapwings which we embarrassingly called as a Ruff until we got a better view ad decided it was actually a Greenshank (165, YBC #142) - Ouch!!!
Following the trail rpund we saw more Gatekeepers, a Red Admiral some Meadow Browns and found P a rather well hidden Snipe.
A Little Grebe fished in the small pool as a few dragonflies zipped about.
Climbing the flood bank to view the river the dyke by the pumphouse had a lovely Banded Demoiselle which we couldn't get a pic of as our big lens wouldn't fit through the mesh of the fence. Once again this was an unheard of species from our youth in these parts, the ditches and rivers were so polluted they were just about lifeless, now there were more Banded Demoiselles, other small damselflies, Broad Bodied Chaser dragonflies patrolling, water weeds, even Mallards cruising up and down. All these would have probably been dissolved in the foul smelling chemistry set this river used to be!
Now Sedge Warblers song-flighted, Lapwings panicked, a Peregrine flew overhead, a Kestrel hovered, butterflies flitted - all in all a rural idyll and a wildlife haven where not too long ago there was very little wildlife to be found.
Back-lit Meadow Brown
As a thunder cloud darkened menacingly and grew larger and closer it was time to go.
Yet another great day on safari and some excellent Monty wrangling from young M who's not used to walking dogs.
Where to next? No sure yet but no doubt we'll come across some wildlife somewhere to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know who's sitting on the posts in your outback.

PS...apologies to Led Zeppelin for the slight lyric change


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Summertime bird lull

The Safari has been up to the nature field with Wifey and Monty in the evenings. By that time of the day most of the enormous numbers of butterflies have gone ot roost even Monty and his pals charging through the grass only manage to disturb small numbers of Small Skippers and Meadow Browns. The birds too are mostly inconspicuous except for the gulls flying over, the Woodpigeons flying about and the House Sparrows roosting noisily in the big Blackthorn thicket.
There's ususally something to point the camera at though.
And if you like beetles there must be trillions of these Red Soldier Beetles.
Ass the evening draws on small numbers of Swifts congregate loosely overhead catching the last of the rising insects. They are usually too high for the 300mm though.
Monty likes a game of rough n tumble with his doggy friends and if there's no-one about his ball will have to do.

A sunny Sunday afternoon in the garden was reallly too quiet for insects, hardly a hoverfly to be seen - where are they all??? At CR's just over the road apparently he's had Wool Carder Bees and Hummingbird Hawk Moths in recent days. We've really struggled to find subjects to point the camera at although there's always a few Lucilia Greenbottles around the bins which gave us a chance to experiment with the extension tubes.
Other than those we almost had to resort to arty pics of the flowers!
At last we found a hoverfly but it was the only one we saw all afternoon apart from a tiny black one that was being buffeted around in the wind too much for any chance of a pic.
While trying to get pics of the hoverfly a small bee was seen among its larger Red Tailed Bumble Bee brethren. Some kind of solitary bee, possibly Halictus rubicundus again.
Then 'Catch of the day' arrived. A bright yellow 'wasp' flew past and landed. Unfortunately it landed in deep shade and the camera was set up for sunny flower tops. We managed one dodgy shot and a couple of totally useless ones as it disappeared down a gap in the timbers around the pond with its prey. One of the Ectemnius species of wasps - but which one? Is that why there's no hoverflies???
It's always good to see the little flies that dance on the Water Lily leaves in the pond. They are Poecilobothrus nobilitatus.
Psyching itself up
Stretch and ready....
Going for it!
Trying to chase off a rival - the females don't have the white tips to the wings
On Monday we were office-bound but parking the car by a demolition site the rough grassy mound held an interesting variety of wildflowers and a couple of Meadow Brown butterflies, some solitary bees as well as the chirping calls of numerous grasshoppers, a great way to start a day sat in front of the 'puter.
Yesterday early morning saw us scoping Patch 2 with LGB for half an hour. We found our first Golden Plover (P2 #53) of the autumn but missed the Kestrel half a mile or or more out to sea. Otherwise it was quiet out there with just a few Sandwich Terns going back and forth seemingly struggling to find any fish although one did catch a decent sized Sand Eel right in front of us. Thinking we'd improve our Year Bird Challenge pic of a Sandwich Tern we got the camera out and they promptly disappeared leaving us the first returning Common Gull of the autumn to photograph badly instead.
Later in the morning we played host to the local nursery kids and took them down on the beach to see what they could find. We didn't have long with them but long enough to get a few prize specimens in the bucket for them to have a look at.
At lunchtime we were joined by DW from a local beach care group and together we had a bit of a beachcomb collecting some more specimens for the afternoon's children.
All good stuff!
In the evening we had a group Rainbows visit the pond who found all the ususal stuff and then pulled out a dragonfly in real trouble. A strong wind had blown up in the afternoon and this poor creature must have been blown into the water while it was drying its wings. Duly rescued we put it in the last of the sunshine to dry out and then moved it to a sheltered spot where he morning sun would warm it -provided it didn't get blown away in the overnight gales.
Where to next? A day off work and a trip to the Southside on family duties but with the opportunity to do get some pics for our Year Bird Challenge.
In the meantime let us know who's on the way back in your outback.


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Too busy to blog

The Safari has been out looking for wildlife every day this week with much of our time taken up in the evenings with Brownie and Beavers groups. They've been working in the pond and have successfully released a tiny Froglet in to the garden. Our work's pond is raised with high sides so there's no way it could have escaped in to big wide world on its own. There's at least one big tadpole still in there too.
We've been so busy educating the kids in the wonders of wildlife that we've not stopped to take any pics. But then again there's only so many gruesome pics of dragonfly nymphs chomping down on poor unfortunate 3-Spined Sticklebacks you readers can take. 
We've had a couple of brief visits to Patch 1 with Monty to see if we could increase our tally of just a single White Letter Hairstreak. No joy with those as no more have been seen but we did note a large increase in the number of Small Skippers.
While waiting for the WLHs after some afternoon rain we spotted an arty spider's web by our knee.
Mid-week we were down on the beach with school groups for a couple of days. Great fun and some great finds like a small unknown species of Bearded Rockling, a few Blennies and a handful of tiny fry from some unknown fish. Neither of the two groups could catch any Sand Gobies though, imagine being outsmarted by a tiny fish with the brain the size of a pin-head. Yes, catching those calls for teamwork and some serious stealth, something we were sadly lacking this week. 
Much easier to catch was this stranded Barrel Jellyfish.
It's a small one
After doing the health and safety talk to the teachers and children we broke the don't touch any jellyfish rule and picked this one up. Gathering the class around we got two of them to stand next to us for a teacher to get a pic. Fully dangling (it was well heavy - arm achingly heavy waiting for the not so quick class to assemble) it was almost as big as the little Year 1 children! 
They continued to collect their shells and whatever else they could find. Then one child called out 'Jellyfish!!!!!!' exactly as they had been instructed to do. We headed off to inspect it and drawn a no-go line in the sand around it with the end of a net but found it not to be a jellyfish at  all. It was a cluster of Squid eggs. Only a small one and well battered but still the first bunch of Squid eggs we've seen on the beach for a few years. Interesting - what were we saying about the dolphins a couple of posts back...
Unfortunately despite the excellent sea conditions the Bottlenose Dolphins didn't put in an appearance for these children from an inland school. That didn't bother them too much they still had a whale of a time. It's very gratifying when at the end of the day and they're getting on the bus to head back to school one of them says 'Thanks sir, that's the best school trip I've ever been on'...but please note he was only six years old and hasn't been on many school trips! Not to worry we're sure he'll remember it for the rest of his life and tell his friends how brilliant our beach is and what they should do and look for if they come down with their families during the summer holidays.
We've got a little guessing game for you now...sadly that was our last school session ever :-( ...but why? NO - we haven't been arrested!!!
Where to next? Family duties at the weekend but we might be able to get out on Safari somewhere for an hour or so.
In the meantime let us know who's holding up the specimens in your outback


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Missed the biggie of the year - no, not the Amur Falcon

The Safari was later in to work than normal due to the enforced office move even though we were working at our 'normal' place. That had a bit of a bad knock on effect. Back at Base Camp we missed a call telling us there were half a dozen Bottlenose Dolphins close inshore and by the time we'd got the message it was well after our usual leaving time so we got frustratingly stuck in the morning commuter run that previously we've avoided. We went straight to the watchpoint to meet LB and FB who put us on to the Bottlenose Dolphins right away letting us use their scopes as we'd brought no optics with us. Unfortunately they were now well to the south and a long way off. Then LB showed us a sketch he'd just made in his notebook - a Risso's Dolphin. Had we been on our normal routine we might just have caught it! We're not totally sure but it could well be the first of its species viewed from our promenade for about 20  or more years! Now our mind started racing - what was it doing there so close inshore? just hooked up with the local(?) Bottlenose Dolphins that seem to circle the wider bay chasing what exactly? Are they looking for Salmon approaching the rivers? If a Risso's Dolphin is with them have they been after Squid? Are there any Squid egg masses on the beach to support that hypothesis? That's the wonder of wildlife always far more questions to tax the brain than answers.
The following day we did have optics with us but the wind had picked up and the sea was choppy making viewing cetaceans difficult although we did have a Grey Seal close to the wall. Here's a bizarre animal fact we didn't know - Atlantic Grey Seals are rarer than African Elephants! and salmon farms are still allowed to shoot them! 
The sun came out at lunchtime and it was quite warm so we had a mooch with the camera for ten minutes or so. A few Black Headed Gulls have began arriving back on th beach after their breeding season. Just adults so far.
As always there's a few Herring Gulls cruising about looking at what the dropping tide might provide.
This one found a Weaver Fish which have a painful toxic spine on their dorsal fin which the gull had to wrangle out, which took a few minutes, before it could be safely swallowed. 
Thankfully none of our children's groups have ever caught a Weaver Fish (touch wood) but they are quite numerous, the anglers often catch them, and this one was only a few yards from the sea wall. As a regular beach-goer we always recommend folk wear suitable footwear and not go barefoot on the sands. 
Ohh nice - just had to break off writing this rubbish cos we saw Swifts passing the window. There's four of them whizzing really low through and over the garden. Brilliant things - we've got the phone playing their screaming so they might notice our Swift nestbox. Only a couple of photo opportunities, they're to quick for our limited viewing space.
It's been pretty lively around the garden at Base Camp today with plenty of comings and goings of juvenile Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Blue and Great Tits and their parents as well as a Robin and a passing Swallow or two. OK so after that little interlude it's back to the tales of safari's.
Last week we went to the zoo to see the rare orchid that had been found there. This week we returned to see if it was in flower yet. It wasn't for the simple reason that had we looked at it properly with our specs on last time we'd have seen that what we thought was a furled flower spike was in fact the remains of a well nibbled midrib...dohhhh. The main stem has been broken off so it's not going to flower this year. It has hardly changed during the week.
Yesterday we had an early start at the nature reserve and enjoyed the peace of early morning with two reeling Grasshopper Warblers, numerous Sedge and Reed Warblers and a bucketful of Reed Buntings. No sign of the Bittern but we did hear a couple of Curlews (MMLNR #77) and watched a Great Spotted Woodpecker (MMLNR #78 - surely we've seen one here before this and neglected to put on our spreadsheet?) fly almost the length of the reserve. Our two target species for our Year Bird Challenge failed to put in an appearance although we did hear several Blackcaps - we'll have to wait a few weeks until they're more out in the open eating berries, same with the no-show and silent Lesser Whitethroats.
In the afternoon we headed out east to the picturesque river valley for a walk with Wifey and Monty. It was busy so the chance of adding a Dipper to our Year Bird Challenge was slim to remote, we'll have to wait for a quiet mid-week opportunity to get out that way for those. There were the shrill calls of young birds in the canopy but far too many dogs in the river for even the Grey Wagtails to show up more than once. The shallow pools are just too inviting for mutts on a warm day, 
and those flippin owners do nothing to discourage their charges from running down the banks and into the water - most actively encourage them after all the countryside is only a place to kill things or let your dogs disturb everything.
Note the slugs and snails on the rock, the water level has risen recently, last time we were here we were able to sit on this rock, getting to it without gettin g our feet wet - bit like the molluscs but they could be stranded out there now - will have to check next time we go.
This morning a jaunt around Patch 1 was a little late as we missed the early morning sunshine and were back in the ISO Stupid gloom - the default for Lancashire according to ex-pat Lancastrian SP - he's not wrong!
We wanted butterflies - we got a (singular) butterfly, a male Meadow Brown.
and a rather dapper bee mimicing hoverfly Volucella pellucens.
Too gloomy to wait for long for nothing to happen at the White Letter Hairstreak tree but we did find our first ripening Blackberry of the year there. That could be a problem the White Letter Hairstreaks are only just emerging and almost all the Bramble flowers have gone over and there's no Creeping Thistle this year, the Bramble thicket having smothered them out. The butterflies will have to make do with honeydew up in the canopy where they are harder to spot.
Later in the afternoon the sun came out and we were able to shoot back out for half an hour for another look. On the way we met good friend PL on his way out of the butterfly zone looking a bit dejected. We had a good chat about all things local nature and eventually he decided to come with us back into the breach. It was a good job he did as he'd have been a bit miffed if we'd have found one minutes after he'd left. And that's what happened within a few minutes of seeing a couple of battling skippers a smaller duller butterfly caught our eye landing on or near a Bramble flower. joy of joys it was what we thought it was going to be. Two cameras rattled away but even through the bins we couldn't see the white 'W', good job those megapixels were able to pick it out.
A bit of a relief to find them on Patch 1 again, it's always a bit twitchy seeing the Elms fading away and hoping that that's not the tree they are dependent on. But then the dead Elms of last year start sprouting again and hopefully the new shoots will last long enough to be come available for egg laying in the future.
The afternoon was topped off by a Comma that landed almost too close to get a pic.
What a great way to end the weekend!
Where to next? In to the lion's den that is the town centre offices tomorrow, wonder if we'll see any wildlife around there.
In the meantime let us know who's